I am having trouble identifying names for PLSS townships. I am beginning to think it is because I am confusing political townships/PLSS townships/others.

Could anyone clarify whether or not PLSS townships have names? If so, could anyone explain why it seems many files omit them?


Yes, PLSS townships have names. For example, T10N R3R in Shelby County Illinois is "Lakewood Township". Most shapefiles of PLSS townships don't include these names, but they do show up on USGS topo maps. You can find a more detailed description of the Township/Range/Section PLSS system here.

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Various websites offer ways to search by location and get Section, Range, and Township information (including township name). For example, the ISGS PLSS site is a helpful resource. Similar websites exist for other parts of the country.

  • Thank you. From the second link, I think I'm seeing the distinction/what's happening here. I do see that it seems like the name is actually carried over from civil townships. AM I understanding that correctly? – Raymond Johnson Jun 20 at 19:11
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    See: "Township and precinct names were obtained from the Census Bureau's 2012 TIGER/Line geospatial data. Civil township/precinct boundaries do not exactly match the PLSS townships and ranges, although in many areas of the state the two systems are coincident. Township and precinct names are provided as a convenience to the user [...]" – Raymond Johnson Jun 20 at 19:12
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    Does every township in the US have an associated name, such as "Lakewood"? I've spent my entire life in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska working with PLSS data, and I've never come across such names. I've always described them as Jeffery Evans states. Have I missed out? – Stu Smith Jun 21 at 0:56
  • Good question, @StuSmith-- I didn't know that. I've worked mostly in the Midwest, and all Townships have names here. The names are generally pretty old too, and you can find them even on plat books from the 1800's. Scrolling through USGS topo maps around the country though, it looks like named townships are primarily a Midwestern phenomenon. Once you get west of the Dakotas, townships don't seem to be named anymore. – lambertj Jun 21 at 17:45

The PLSS is a gridded system with numeric ID's identifying each township and range with N,S,E,W grid divisions, and associated sections eg., "T7N R2W section 14" would be a common naming convertio but, the attributes are often stored in separate columns. To get more specific, deceptively, you start defining divisions in the sections (aliquot parts) eg., "T7N R2W NE of SE of section 14" which defines the NW quarter in the SW quarter.

  • Thank you for your answer. That's what I came to think, but I'm seeing both PLSSID/numeric IDs as well as names (and most times where said names come from doesn't seem clear) on maps... but they rarely appear in the raw data. Have you noticed this on maps/have idea why they'd exist on some? The answer above provides an example in the second link. Thanks again! – Raymond Johnson Jun 21 at 15:24

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